You know that terrible retching sound someone makes when they throw up? I don’t mean the little glances of regurgitation that a baby makes. I mean the full throated and full throttled retching and wrenching that only comes when someone has had way too much to drink.
That’s what’s going on about 15 feet behind me right this minute. Some guy is heaving his insides. I swear if he pukes any harder I’m apt to see his toes come out of his mouth.
About 15 feet on the other side of me is a guy who is homeless. It’s not my opinion. It’s a fact. He told me so about twenty minutes ago when he asked if I had any spare change. His shirt is torn and dirty and the crotch of his dirty jeans is stained with what smells like urine.
On the table in front of me is a turkey sandwich. Freshly wrapped two and a half weeks ago. Again, not my opinion. It’s written right on the wrapper. Some type of fuzzy green stuff growing on the top slice of turkey can be scraped off with no problem and it’s a meal fit for a – well, I don’t know what it’s fit for. But a liter bottle of Coca Cola makes anything taste good.
I’m setting at the bus station in Washington DC waiting on the 8:45pm bus to take me home to Indiana. It was a week ago today that I got to Zuccotti Park in Manhattan to get some shots and hopefully a story out of the OccupyWallStreet movement that began there September 17. I’ve got the shots. The story is slowly coming together. Now I’m going home. I’m glad. I’m tired. I miss Jo.
Two nights in Manhattan were enough. Cold – at night the temperature dipped down into the 40s and that was WITHOUT figuring in any damn “wind chill factor”. But the wind was definitely blowing. Whipping through the skyscraper lined streets, the wind came roaring up Broadway and hit you full in the face no matter what you tried to do to block it. And the rain. The rain never stopped. It would let up for a season, but then come back driving harder and faster than any ten New York cabbies.
About 4 o’clock in the morning, I had to pack the camera into the gear bag. Not because of the weather, but because of the unrelenting earthquake-like shakes that had set up in my body. It was impossible to hold the camera still long enough to get a shot of anything.
I’d buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks on Wall Street at night before finding a soft spot on the concrete to call it a night and in the morning, the coffee would be cold and stale before I even woke up enough to finish it off.
Sleep? It didn’t come easy in New York. And it didn’t come often. The first night all I could do was to try to find the driest wet spot in the park and stretch out in it. Resting my head on my gear bag, I tried to doze off only to be woken again and again by more rain that passed through. Nothing over me, nothing under me and nothing around me. Finally after about 3 hours of trying to shut the weather out of my mind I gave it up and wandered the streets of Lower Manhattan waiting until 6 when the sun would return.
The second night was a little better – but not much. Somehow I found a tarp that was big enough to lay on. Having spent plenty of time outside, I knew the technique for turning myself into a giant human burrito by holding the tarp just so and rolling the opposite direction. The tarp didn’t make the concrete any softer, but it did keep the rain and wind away. I finally dozed off after a few hours with the tarp making an effective trap for my sparse body heat.
And people wish they had my life. They see the 20% of my life which are the trips to Snake River, hiking into the Grand Canyon and going parasailing in Virginia. What they don’t see is the 80% that makes the 20% possible. Waiting up almost all night in the cold, rain and wind in Manhattan waiting on “the” photo to present itself. They don’t see the nights setting around a chrome plated bus station or airport sipping yet another cup of stale coffee.
They don’t see the time put into an article that some editor may or may not buy. And they don’t understand that selling an article or photograph successfully often depends as much – if not more – on what side of the bed the editor woke up on.
I’m not complaining though. It’s the job I’ve chosen to do. I don’t have a cute little studio that I can go to and work in every day. I don’t find myself working in glamour nightclubs shooting musicians and partiers. I don’t get to “look and smell pretty” as I work. But there are benefits. I can see the sun rise over the nation’s Capital and I can watch it set over the Grand Tetons. I’ll sail on a 16th century sailing ship in a few weeks and then get ready to go canoeing in the Everglades. And one thing I’m extremely grateful for? At the end of the day I now have someone to go home to.
I’ve gotten to see and do and shoot some amazing things these past five years. Things that the average person only dreams of being able to do. But at the end of the day, I’ve always gone to an empty apartment. No one listen to me as I said, “You should see what I did today”.
So tomorrow when I hit the end of another road trip, I’ll open the door, tell Jo, “Honey, I’m home!” And she’ll give me a kiss and a hug, that tells me “welcome home” and then she’ll want to hear all about the trip.
Walking through that door and into her arms makes the other 80% all worthwhile.
Jerry Nelson is a nationally recognized photojournalist. His work has appeared in many national, regional and local publications including CNN, USAToday, Upsurge, Earthwalkers and Associated Content. Nelson travels the country seeking out the people, places and things that make America unique and great. When not traveling, Nelson volunteers his time and donates his services to area non-profit agencies and is available for portraits, promotional shoots, events and more. Nelson lives in Asheville, North Carolina when not chasing down stories and photo opportunities.